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Worried About Aging: Try More Exercise

Harold Mandel's picture
An elderly couple taking a walk

As aging sets in there are deepening concerns about how to maintain the best health possible. Good nutrition is of course of vital importance. More and more people are cutting out junk food and adhering to a healthy diet to help them maintain good health as they age. Adequate relaxation and sleep is also of vital importance to help you age well. New research shows that physical activity is also of paramount importance in helping you to age well.

In order to experience healthy aging physical activity is a very important factor as you age, as reported upon in a review of a research paper in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. In previous research there was a focus on taking up more physical activity at middle age and how this effects healthy aging. In this research there was a focus on taking up increasing physical activity later in life and healthy aging. It was concluded in this study that sustained physical activity as people age is associated with improved overall health. Furthermore, significant health benefits were even observed among people who became physically active at a relatively late point in life.

In a review of this research Science Daily states it is never actually too late to become physically active. This new research offers evidence that even people who begin exercising at a relatively late point in life see significant health benefits. The findings showed a dramatic sevenfold increase in the likelihood of healthy aging in people who had regular physical activity for four years or longer, in comparison to people who were consistently inactive.

In this study in England the health of about 3500 people, whose average age was 64, was followed for more than eight years. A definition of healthy aging encompassed not simply an absence of major disease and disability, but also good mental health with cognitive abilities remaining intact, along with the ability to maintain social connections and activities. There has been more and more evidence which suggests that regular physical activity is vital to maintain good health. And being inactive has been ranked right alongside smoking, excess drinking, and obesity as being a leading cause of lowered life expectancy.

It was observed that people who regularly engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity at least one time a week were consistently more likely to age in a healthy manner than people who remained inactive. The researchers concluded that public health initiatives which are designed to engage older people in physical activity, in advanced age, should be encouraged. In a separate article I have discussed how exercise can help with aging and depression.

Medline Plus of the National Institutes of Health discusses 7 steps to aging well.

1. Control Your Blood Pressure:

It is possible to have high blood pressure, or hypertension, and feel fine. This is due to the fact that the symptoms associated with high blood pressure can not be seen or felt. However, high blood pressure is a very serious health problem and is often called the "silent killer". If high blood pressure is not treated properly, it can lead to stroke, heart disease, vision problems, and kidney failure.

The top number in your blood pressure reading is your systolic pressure and your lower number is your diastolic pressure. With normal blood pressure your systolic pressure is less than 120 and your diastolic pressure is less than 80. In prehypertension your systolic pressure is between 120 and 139 or your diastolic pressure is between 80 and 89. This means you may be at risk of developing high blood pressure. With high blood pressure you will have a reading of 140/90 or higher at several checkups.

In order to try to avoid high blood pressure you should do the following:

a. Keep a healthy weight. Being overweight increases to your risk.

b. Exercise daily. Even moderate exercise can lower blood pressure.

c. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods.

d. Cut down on salt and sodium. A low-salt diet may help lower your blood pressure.

e. Drink less alcohol. A general rule is men should have no more than two drinks a day and women no more than one a day.

f. If lifestyle changes alone do not control your BP, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure pills.

2. Control Your Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance which present in cell walls or membranes throughout the body. including your heart. Although your body needs some excess cholesterol, excess cholesterol which is deposited in your blood can increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. If excess cholesterol builds up in your arteries, including your coronary arteries, it can contribute to narrowing and blockage. Good cholesterol, or high-density lipoproteins (HDL), carries cholesterol in the blood to the liver, which than removes it. Bad cholesterol, or low density lipoproteins (LDL), may lead to a buildup of cholesterol in the walls of your arteries. With higher levels of LDL in your blood, there are increased chances of developing coronary heart disease.

Diet and exercise can help you lower your LDL bad cholesterol and raise your HDL good cholesterol. If this does not work your physician may prescribe drugs.

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3. Control Your Weight

Research has shown that being overweight increases your risk for a multitude of health risks as you age, including:

a. Type 2 diabetes

b. High blood pressure

c. Heart disease and stroke

d. Some types of cancer

e. Sleep apnea

f. Osteoarthritis

If you lose just 5 to 15 percent of your body weight your health will generally be greatly improved. Losing 1/2 to 2 pounds per week is considered a safe rate of weight loss.

4. Exercise

With physical exercise you burn more calories. If you burn off more calories than you eat daily you will lose weight. A good exercise goal for most people is 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Before beginning an exercise schedule you should discuss any health conditions with your physician.

5. Stop Smoking

Tobacco has been recognized as the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States are due to smoking each year. Smoking is also the most common risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. Smoking is is also associated with many other types of cancer. There is also an increase of chronic lung disease and heart disease with smoking.

6. Don't Drink Too Much

There are a myriad of health risks associated with heavy drinking. The risk for many types of cancer is increased with heavy drinking, particularly those of the liver, esophagus, throat, and larynx. Heavy drinking may also cause liver cirrhosis, immune system problems, brain damage, and harm a fetus during pregnancy. Furthermore, drinking dramatically increases the risk of death from automobile accidents, and recreational and job related injuries.

It is generally felt that moderate alcohol use, which is up to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women and older people, does not harm most adults. A standard drink consists of one 12-ounce bottle or can of either beer or wine cooler, a 5- ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

7. Follow Preventive Measures Proven to Help

You should take responsibility for your own health as you age. Be an active participant with your physician and other health care professionals in making decisions about your own health care, and deal only with physicians who respect your right to do this. Pay attention to vaccination suggestions. Protect your skin from over-exposure to the sun. Be careful about taking medicine which is prescribed properly and report any side effects immediately. Possible side effects of medicine should be discussed with you by your physician at the time of prescribing them. And continue to stay well educated about how you can stay healthy as you age.

EmaxHealth reporter Tim Boyer, PhD, shares insights from the Dr Oz show about how an anti-aging lifestyle plan can actually help reverse the aging process.

It has been my professional experience that it helps to encourage older people to get involved in healthy lifestyles and to eat well. As people age they generally appreciate it when an interest is shown in their well being. In order to help avoid elderly people from falling into depressive states stay in touch with them. Elderly parents generally feel great with a phone call or visit and hearing "Hi mom or Hi dad", just like when you were growing up yourself.

Maintaining strong family relations and encouraging getting in shape can help older people feel better and live longer. Life is a day to day thing for everyone at any age, with no guarantees about what may happen tomorrow and therefore try to find some time to remember to encourage elderly people to stay in shape and eat well every single day of their lives, if this is at all possible.